Three officers who assaulted Occupy activist released on bail after judge says jail terms may be ‘excessive’
Trio were among seven officers caught on film attacking Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, 40, outside electricity substation during civil disobedience movement
Three Hong Kong police officers, each jailed for two years for assaulting an activist during the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014, were freed on bail pending appeal on Wednesday, after a judge said their sentences might be “excessive”.
The trio were among seven officers caught on film attacking Ken Tsang Kin-chiu, 40, outside an electricity substation during the civil disobedience movement, after he was arrested and zip-tied for pouring liquid over uniformed police in a clearance operation in Admiralty on October 15.
Police supporters protesting outside the High Court building on Wednesday were heard on the fifth floor, where the bail hearing took place, shouting: “Political judgment. Support police. Enforce the law.”
While Mr Justice Wally Yeung Chun-kuen was not convinced that the grounds of appeal tabled by the officers stood a reasonable chance of success, he noted that the original sentence might be excessive and expressed concern that the officers may end up serving most of the sentence – if not all – by the time their appeal is heard.
Yeung explained that the case must be considered in the context of the Occupy movement, where police had the unenviable task of maintaining law and order, working long hours without rest and acting under immense stress in the face of violent and provocative protesters, like Tsang, whom he said was “an infamous example”.
Yeung noted that the social worker’s offensive and highly provocative behaviour – driven by his “arrogance and stupidity” – had led to an equally senseless response from the officers who decided to teach him a lesson.
“Without in any way underestimating what the applicants did, it’s highly arguable that a starting point of 2.5 years [of imprisonment] is manifestly excessive,” he told a full house in court. “A significantly lower starting point might perhaps be appropriate.”
He then granted bail to all three officers, each on cash and surety ranging from HK$10,000 to HK$50,000, with the condition that they surrender their travel documents and reside in their reported addresses.
The three officers are Senior Inspector Lau Cheuk-ngai, 31; Constable Lau Hing-pui, 39; and detective constable Wong Wai-ho, 38.
Being released on bail means Senior Inspector Lau will be able to see the birth of his child next month, a point he had mentioned in his mitigation.
Still in matching ties, the trio sat stoic and upright while an interpreter translated the English proceedings.
Their co-defendants have also lodged appeals since their joint conviction in February on one count of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, but they have yet to apply for bail. They are Chief Inspector Wong Cho-shing, 50; Detective Sergeant Pak Wing-bun, 43; and detective constables Chan Siu-tan, 33; and Kwan Ka-ho, 33.
No date has been set for their leave to appeal hearing, which the court expects will take place earliest at the end of this year.
District judge David Dufton convicted the men after concluding in a 224-page judgement that Tsang was a reliable witness and finding that news footage of the incident had accurately captured all seven defendants on camera.
But Selwyn Yu SC argued that the presence of his client, Lau Cheuk-ngai, among the group was not enough to consider him as part of a joint enterprise to attack Tsang, especially when the senior inspector had twice succeeded in stopping the assault.
His submission was however interrupted by the judge, who suggested that the officer could have drawn a pistol if he had really meant to intervene. “He just stood there to pacify the others,” Yeung said.
Counsel Edwin Choy, representing the other two officers, further argued that the quality of the videos used was not good enough for identification and said prosecutors should have summoned the cameramen to testify.
Both counsels also expressed concern over the time of appeal, revealing that three other officers had yet to file their grounds of appeal.
Ken Tsang was jailed for five weeks in a separate trial at Kowloon City Court last May over one count of assaulting police and two of resisting police.
To the surprise of many, he gave up his appeal and began serving time this March, after his assailants’ trial.
News footage of Tsang curling up against the officers’ kicks, punches and baton hits quickly circulated in 2014, making it one of the most controversial scenes from the largely peaceful protests, while the site gained infamy as the “dark corner”.
Subsequent medical examination found the social worker suffered swelling and reddish bruises on his face, neck, shoulder, flank, chest and back.